Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wishing someone had Choke(d) me so i wouldn't have had to see this

Fox Searchlight's Choke
Actor-turned-director Clark Gregg shows he is as adept behind the camera as in front of it with Choke, a wickedly colorful dark comedy about mothers and sons, sexual compulsion, and the sordid underbelly of Colonial theme parks. Victor Mancini, a sex-addicted med-school dropout, keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida, in an expensive private mental hospital by working days as a historical reenactor. At night he runs a scam where he deliberately chokes in upscale restaurants to form parasitic relationships with the wealthy patrons who "save" him. When, in a rare lucid moment, Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of his father's identity, Victor must enlist the aid of his best friend, Denny, a recovering chronic masturbator, and his mother's beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall, to solve this mystery before the truth of his possibly divine parentage is lost forever. Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke tickles the funny bone as it dives into darker areas of human behavior. At the heart of the film is yet another staggering performance by Sam Rockwell as Victor. He fully inhabits the character and nails both the comedic and dramatic aspects with indelible timing and delivery. A delicious blend of fresh writing, juicy performances, and sharp directing, Choke is actually quite easy to swallow.
In his off hours, Victor attends 12-step meetings to cope with his sex addiction, although he's there mostly to meet women. He reserves most of his energy for a scam in which he chokes on food in the hopes of getting Heimliched by wealthy patrons on whom he can leech for a few months. The chatty narrative track assures us this con has worked in the past, although we never see real evidence of it in the film. The dramatic throughline of "Choke" follows Victor's actual emotional involvement with Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald)his mother's doctor and a bit of a hothouse flower herself. As touching as Macdonald is, most of the film's interest lies on the sidelines, in secondary characters such as the little old lady convinced Victor once touched her "woo-woo," or the theme park's lovelorn manager, played by the director himself. Great swatches of narration have been imported from book to screen, and while Rockwell delivers these with sardonic ease, the approach is still the opposite of cinema. Palahniuk fans will get what they came for and come away scratching their heads, because Gregg has mistaken the literal for the literary. He has fashioned an amiable Xerox that stubbornly refuses to shock like the real thing.
Choke is disappointing not for what it is but what it could have been. It's watchable enough and at times quite engaging, but that's the problem: A story about a sex addict who works as a colonial re-enactor when he's not feigning choking to death at expensive restaurants should be more than just watchable. It should be as transgressive as its hero. It should cut and it should bleed. It should hurt, in other words, as much as "Fight Club," the last movie made out of a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Where that film's director, David Fincher, is a born filmmaker, Clark Gregg, the actor-turned-director of "Choke," seems like a really nice guy. I'm not sure where nice guys finish in Palahniuk's dark universe, but it's probably not first. It was ok, but it just didn't seem to get to where it should've been. A weary 3 on my "Go See' scale.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cook at his best in My Best Friends Girl

Lionsgate Films' My Best Friend's Girl

A master at seducing – and offending – women, Tank (Dane Cook) is a professional My Best Friend's Girl. When guys get dumped, they hire Tank to take their ex-girlfriends out on the worst date of their lives – an experience so horrible it sends them running gratefully back to their beaus. So when Tank’s best friend, Dustin (Jason Biggs), is dumped by his new girlfriend, Tank naturally offers to help out…and ends up meeting the challenge of a lifetime. Smart, beautiful and headstrong, Alexis (Kate Hudson) is the first girl who knows how to call his bluff, and Tank soon finds himself torn between his loyalty to Dustin and his love for his best friend’s girl.

Dane Cook plays Tank Turner, a guy who gets paid by disgruntled bachelors to act like such an obnoxious jerk that they look good in comparison. When love-struck Dustin (Jason Biggs) declares his true feelings for beautiful Alexis (Kate Hudson), she shoots him down and suggests they just be friends first. Unbeknownst to her, Dustin's best friend and roommate is Tank, who specializes in being the rebound date from hell, a scumbag who sends women fleeing back to the better man they recently dumped. But a funny thing happens: turns out Alexis really likes a-holes, and Tank, unable to rely on his usual tricks, finds himself falling for her.

At first, this seems like the perfect vehicle for Cook, whose humor is often abrasive and hasn't worked too well in his prior romantic leading roles, like Employee of the Month. Finally able to play an unbridled ass, he does so with gusto in the movie's early moments, which revel in the cynicism of the degree to which women really do get off on bad boys. Sadly, the latter half of the film requires Tank to get sincere, and Cook's just not too good at that, especially since the story up until that point has been trying to get us to sympathize with Dustin, who then suddenly falls by the wayside.

In trying to play to both Cook's raunch-loving fanbase and to hopeless romantics, director Howard Deutch has made an awkward half-breed that's likely to alienate both camps. Chances are you'll love half the movie, and despise the rest.It’s not a huge compliment to call this Cook’s best film—though it is—but Screenwriter Jordan Cahan’s curious and increasingly sincere slant on modern romance outshines its efforts to please his MySpace fan base with gross-out gags. (Some of which are damned funny, like a wedding scene where he drops his pants before the mother of the bride and announces, “C’mon, it’s not going to suck itself.”) Cook’s crisis is that after years of being the lowest common denominator, he’s less than Hudson deserves. This one will appeal to one fan base more than another, but I have to say that I found this pretty funny. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Remind me to stay away from Lakeview Terrace

In Lakeview Terrace, a young couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) has just moved into their California dream home when they become the target of their next-door neighbor, who disapproves of their interracial relationship. A stern, single father, this tightly wound LAPD officer (Samuel L. Jackson) has appointed himself the watchdog of the neighborhood. His nightly foot patrols and overly watchful eyes bring comfort to some, but he becomes increasingly harassing to the newlyweds. These persistent intrusions into their lives ultimately turn tragic when the couple decides to fight back.

Imagine you’ve finally moved into your dream home. Quiet street, beautiful yards, everyone minds their own business. And, to sweeten the pot, you learn that your next door neighbor is a cop. Great news, right?

Chris (Wilson) and Lisa (Washington) Mattson have just bought their first home. Chris works for a large supermarket chain while Lisa designs fashions. Together they make a great couple. To everyone it seems but their new neighbor, Abel Turner, a 20 year veteran of the Los Angeles police department. Turner lost his wife three years ago and is now doing his best to raise his young son and daughter. He makes sure the pray, make their beds, use good grammar and won’t allow his boy to wear a Kobe Bryant jersey (he’s more partial to Shaq). He also takes pristine care of his garden when he’s not fixing his classic cars. A busy man indeed. Abel doesn’t like the new neighbors. Whether it’s because they’re young and happy or the fact Chris is white and Lisa is black, Abel isn’t keen on becoming the Welcome Wagon.

There are some actors that are a pleasure to watch work and Jackson is certainly one of them. Even when he’s chasing snakes on a plane he has an intensity that jumps off the screen. That intensity is on display here by the barrel full. In fact, Jackson’s performance is really the only reason to see “Lakeview Terrace.” The plot, what little there is, is spelled out in the first 20 minutes of the film…SAM DOESN’T LIKE YOU! Chris and Lisa suffer through all of Abel’s games because they’re afraid of some kind of “cop retribution.” While Wilson and Washington are talented performers, they’re really not given anything to do to stand out. And I don’t know how much the LAPD pays it’s officers, but I don’t think it’s enough to by a beautiful house in the hills (located on Lakeview CIRCLE – guess no one told the producers) , complete with several classic autos. Maybe he’s got a good investment adviser. A predictable film in MANY ways I'm giving this one a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A new song for Nick And Norah

Sony Pictures' Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a comedy about two people thrust together for one hilarious, sleepless night of adventure in a world of mix tapes, late-night living, and, live, loud music. Nick (Michael Cera) frequents New York's indie rock scene nursing a broken heart and a vague ability to play the bass. Norah (Kat Dennings) is questioning pretty much all of her assumptions about the world. Though they have nothing in common except for their taste in music, their chance encounter leads to an all-night quest to find a legendary band's secret show and ends up becoming the first date in a romance that could change both their lives.

Nick, a high school student, is the lovelorn bass player for an electo-punk band whose other members are all gay. He is in no mood to perform at the group's gig this evening, as he has been dumped by Tris (Alexis Dziena), a horrid Mean Girl who shouldn't have been dating a sensitive soul like Nick to begin with. The dumping actually took place weeks ago, but Nick is still reeling, particularly in the sense of "reeling" that means "making mix CDs urging Tris to reconsider." Those mix CDs, unbeknownst to him, have earned him the admiration of Norah (Kat Dennings), a semi-friend of Tris' who appreciates Nick's ultra-hip musical tastes far better than the plastic Tris does. Norah and Nick wind up meeting at Nick's show (held at the type of sweaty, second-tier venue familiar to indie-rock fans), and though he is still brooding over Tris, he and Norah find plenty of common ground when it comes to music. And best of all: underground sensations Where's Fluffy? are performing a secret show somewhere in the five boroughs tonight, and Nick and Norah simply MUST find out where. But first a more pressing concern requires their attention: Norah's slutty blonde friend Caroline (Ary Graynor, very funny) is drunk beyond her ability to function and needs to be driven home. Nick's bandmates (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron), eager to see Nick get over the wretched Tris, agree to give Caroline a lift in their van so that Nick and Norah can be alone in Nick's Yugo. Complications arise: Caroline wanders off; Tris is still lurking in the periphery (now jealous, of course, that her ex is with someone else), and the Where's Fluffy? show is starting to look like a wild goose chase. The film is effortlessly funny, sweet, and real in a way that few teen comedies are. It's one of those films where everything takes place over the course of one magical night in New York (a city where, if the movies are to be believed, such magical nights are commonplace). Michael Cera has emerged as the prince of awkwardness, a dorky, non-threatening hero of unrequited teen love. The day may come when audiences grow tired of seeing Cera play this type of kid -- this wry, worried, deadpan teenager who pines for a girl -- but that day has not yet arrived. Cera is consistently funny in his usual fashion, and Kat Dennings a terrific partner, both romantically and comedically. I'm not surprised that the film captures young love in the big city as well as it does. As dawn approaches, the movie -- which has been energetically witty, even madcap, up to this point -- grows quiet and tender, winding down naturally, the way an exciting and exhausting night always does. It's a nice, smooth finale for a very satisfying movie. A Love filled 4 on my "Go See" scale.

these Women take a modern turn

Picturehouse's The Women

In The Women, Mary Haines seems to have it all--a beautiful country home, a rich financier husband, an adorable 11-year-old daughter and a part-time career creating designs for her father's venerable clothing company. Her best friend, Sylvie Fowler, leads another enviable life--as a happily single editor of a prominent fashion magazine, a possessor of a huge closet of designer clothes and a revered arbiter of taste and style poised on New York's cutting edge. But when Mary's husband enters into an affair with Crystal Allen, a sultry "spritzer girl" lurking behind the Saks Fifth Avenue perfume counter, all hell breaks loose. Mary and Sylvie's relationship is tested to the breaking point while their tight-knit circle of friends, including mega-mommy Edie Cohen and author Alex Fisher, all start to question their own friendships and romantic relationships as well.

"The Women" was originally a play on Broadway in the mid 30's. It was then turned into a movie in 1939. I myself have not seen the original Broadway production or the original movie adaptation, so I cannot speak for those. Some might call it a chick flick, but The Women is obviously science fiction.It takes place in a surreal parallel universe unoccupied by men except as unseen participants in cell-phone conversations. With one charming exception, not a single masculine entity appears in this film, which stuffs every scene — every party, restaurant, fashion show, store — with sleek 21st-century exemplars of upper-crust New York metropolitan womanhood.

The original starred Norma Shearer as the suffering Mary and Joan Crawford as her rival, that floozy Crystal Allen. Shearer was stoic; Crawford was a snake with painted eyebrows. The swankest performance (or my favorite, in any case) was Rosalind Russell's as Sylvia, Mary's gossipy gal pal, here played by Annette Bening with delicious savoir faire but a bit less zip. Rounding out the foursome of friends: Jada Pinkett Smith as Alex, the no-nonsense lesbian (that wasn't in the original); Debra Messing as Edie, the ever-breeding earth-mother; and, last but not least, Ryan's Mary, a suburban supermom trying to juggle motherhood, spousehood, charity work and an unrewarding job with her father's clothing business.

We first learn of Mary's marital troubles from a blabbermouthed manicurist (Debi Mazar), who spills to Sylvie, who spills to Edie, who then together spill to Alex, who persuades them, finally, to spill to Mary. But by then Mary already knows, because the same manicurist inadvertently spilled to her ages ago. Ryan's Mary is a far more independent creature than Shearer's — who faced the loss of her husband as a loss of income and status — but she has the undeniable, irrepressible warmth and decency that the part demands. And there's a scene in the kitchen, with Ryan and a pair of housekeepers (including Cloris Leachman), that does things with a stick of butter I never imagined possible.

Fourteen years in the making, The Women marks a serviceable directorial debut for English, an Emmy-winning TV writer and producer who created Murphy Brown. She goes light on the cattiness, heavy on sisterhood and seems determined to bolster everyone's self-esteem. This movie was fun and Just hearing that Jada Pinkett-Smith would be playing a lesbian was enough for me. A womanly 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gervais made me want to live in his Ghost Town

Movie trailers for Ghost Town hype a funny, character-driven story starring Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear. Happily, there’s no disappointment in the film, as Ghost Town is not only very funny but quite likeable as well.

Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a dentist who likes his career because he doesn’t have to listen to anyone talk. When he undergoes a routine colonoscopy and is given anesthesia, Bertram doesn’t wake up – for a while. And when he does, he thinks things are status quo. Bertram soon discovers that isn't true; in fact, he "sees dead people." But the situations are funny. Strange people bombard him with requests to do odd things. For example, one woman wants him to tell her daughter where she left a good-bye note. Bertram doesn’t understand what’s going on until Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) explains that he and the others are all ghosts who can’t pass on because they all have one last task to finish involving a loved one. Because Bertram can see and hear them while others cannot, it’s his help they need. Although Gervais is barley known to non-TV fans, his dry-humor is well recognized in his native England and as the Golden Globe-winning creator and star of the original The Office and HBO’s Extras. He’s a natural against the loveable and laughable Kinnear, whose character was run down by a bus during his prime. Living in a filet-mignon world and married to one wonderful woman, Frank had just purchased another place for his mistress. He feels guilty over the grief he’s caused his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), and wants Bertram to help him apologize and get rid of her new boyfriend Richard (Billy Campbell). One amusing scenario after another unfolds, all featuring Gervais, who can make an ordinary situation seem hilarious. Bertram’s gag reflex, triggered by a dog’s bad breath, is funny every time it happens. Kinnear makes easy work of this role, mimicking the goofy character he in played in the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine. Tea Leoni presents a likeable character here, one far more interesting than her role in last year’s You Kill Me. It’s perfect casting that makes this thoroughly entertaining film work so well. A hefty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

The Family That Preys opens many eyes

Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard star as the matriarchs of two very different families being torn apart by greed and scandal in the contemporary drama Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys. The sixth feature film by Perry chronicles the inner workings of two families—one upper-crust and the other working class—that become inextricably linked by scandal. Wealthy socialite Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) and her dear friend Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard), a working class woman of high ideals, have enjoyed a lasting friendship throughout many years. Suddenly, their lives become mired in turmoil as their adult children’s extramarital affairs, unethical business practices and a dark paternity secret threaten to derail family fortunes and unravel the lives of all involved. Alice’s self-centered newlywed daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) is betraying her trusting husband Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) by engaging in a torrid affair with her boss and mother’s best friend’s son William (Cole Hauser). While cheating on his wife Jillian (Kadee Strickland) with a string of ongoing dalliances with his mistress Andrea, William’s true focus is to replace the COO of his mother’s lucrative construction corporation. Meanwhile, Alice’s other daughter Pam (Taraji Henson), a kind but no nonsense woman married to a hard working construction worker (Tyler Perry), tries to steer the family in a more positive direction. While paternity secrets, marital infidelity, greed and unsavory business dealings threaten to derail both families, Charlotte and Alice decide to take a breather from it all by making a cross-country road trip in which they rediscover themselves and possibly find a way to save their families from ruin in Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys.

For too long Tyler Perry has been one of the best kept secrets of the entertainment industry. His movies consistently open up as either number one or number two and go on to earn a substantial profit. The subject matter of his films is generally simple and the delivery is totally entertaining from start to finish.The dialogue is sharp and dramatic when it needs to be, and glib and funny when that suits the story. He has created characters with whom the audience can identify and the story boils down to a simple good versus evil morality tale.The acting, especially that of Woodard and Bates, is excellent. All of the supporting roles add into the mix to make a compelling family drama. There are no weak points and wonder of wonders no slow points. The film moves quickly from one aspect of the story to the next but never feels rushed. You get a chance to learn these characters and to understand them. “Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys” is the kind of movie people ask for every day. It has good values, strong performances, and a strong script. A definite must see. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Righteous(ly) Kill this load of crap

Academy Award winners Robert De Niro and Al Pacino star as a pair of veteran New York City police detectives on the trail of a vigilante serial killer in the adrenaline fueled psychological thriller Righteous Kill. The cast also features hip-hop superstar Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. After 30 years as partners in the pressure cooker environment of the NYPD, highly decorated Detectives David Fisk and Thomas Cowan should be ready for retirement, but aren’t. Before they can hang up their badges, they are called in to investigate the murder of a notorious pimp, which appears to have ties to a case they solved years before. Like the original murder, the victim is a suspected criminal whose body is found accompanied by a four line poem justifying the killing. When additional crimes take place, it becomes clear the detectives are looking for a serial killer, one who targets criminals that have fallen through the cracks of the judicial system. His mission is to do what the cops can’t do on their own—take the culprits off the streets for good. The similarities between the recent killings and their earlier case raise a nagging question: Did they put the wrong man behind bars?

De Niro and Pacino can’t be denied. They are great actors. But that doesn’t mean all you have to do is put them in a film together and be done. Avnet is not Martin Scorsese, just look at his previous work which included Fried Green Tomatoes. The immediate confession of De Niro sets the motions in place, and everything that follows seems obvious. In fact, I could have used less “story” and more banter between the two. We’ve been hanging on every word De Niro and Pacino have said over the years, but with the focus on odd and again, obvious twists and turns there wasn’t enough time to sit back and watch two of the greatest film actors of all time. Righteous Kill dismisses most of the wit for macho bluster and a surprise you can see coming down the turnpike. While there's no point in commenting that De Niro and Pacino are playing calcified versions of their once-great selves, at least Pacino is more reserved than usual — a welcome change. But between the film's police-procedural minutiae and trite thematic concerns (the weight of Catholic guilt, the thin moral line between cop and crook), Righteous Kill isn't so much bad as it is played out. No wonder the film's faded stars seem to fit right in. This one just wasn't worth it. I felt like i was sitting through 88 Minutes all over again. A definite 2 on my "Go See" scale

Don't Burn, This deserves multiple readings!

The Coen Brothers return triumphant with Burn After Reading, a film that’s as different from their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men (2007) as possible. Where No Country was serious (with Coen-esque bouts of bitter humor), Burn After Reading at least appears to be a very frivolous affair (with Coen-esque bouts of grisliness). But as Brad Pitt’s character says during the course of the film, “appearances can be deceptive.” At bottom, I think Burn is anything but frivolous. It’s just so much unwholesome fun that it seems that way.

Burn After Reading is about infidelity … blackmail … exercise … and being in over your head, I think. It’s a tough call, but the key is that every actor embraces their character, especially Pitt. He steals the show and after a killer twist I was scared the movie would derail. But then everyone else starts to become fun and more importantly, funny. Just like the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, I don’t think Burn After Reading has an important message to tell, but the craftsmanship which goes into these films can’t be denied. Malkovich plus Pitt is perfection. In fact, I wish the film could have focused on just the two of them. It would have seemed like the opposite cat and mouse game that Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin shared. When Osborne and Chad meet in Osborne’s car, with Chad trying to look tough after riding his bike to a blackmail, Burn After Reading is at it’s funniest. In the end, nearly everything that happens in Burn After Reading results from Linda Litzke’s media-fed desire for a body makeover—perhaps simultaneously the most ridiculous premise, yet strangely appropriate one to our age imaginable. In the world of the Coens’ darkly funny film, we’re all going to hell and the only possible response is to sit back and be amused by the sheer absurdity of the ride. It may just be the perfect film for our time. Definitely see this movie. If you love the Coen brothers and dark comedies you WON'T be disappointed! A strong 5 on my "Go See" Scale.

With very few flaws these 3 are still quite lucky

Lionsgate Films' The Lucky Ones

A timely drama about life in America today, The Lucky Ones stars Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins and Michael Pena as three soldiers on leave trying to make sense of their lives during an unexpected road trip across the United States. A humorous, moving portrayal about the challenges of coming home.

After suffering an injury during a routine patrol, hardened sergeant TK Poole (Michael Pena) is granted a one-month leave to visit his fiancé. But when an unexpected blackout cancels all flights out of New York, TK agrees to share a ride to Pittsburgh with two similarly stranded servicemen: Cheever (Tim Robbins), an older family man who longs to return to his wife in St. Louis, and Colee (Rachel McAdams), a naive private who's pinned her hopes on connecting with a dead fellow soldier's family. What begins as a short trip unexpectedly evolves into a longer journey. Forced to grapple with old relationships, broken hopes and a country divided over the war, TK, Cheever and Colee discover that home is not quite what they remembered, and that the unlikely companionship they've found might be what matters the most.

Technically speaking, Sergeant Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins), Theodore "T.K." Poole (Michael Pena) and Private Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams) are indeed lucky: Though all were injured during their separate tours of duty, they made it out of Iraq alive. Colee, who's returning to the U.S. on a 30 day leave, was wounded in the leg by an IED, her life saved by a fellow solider named Randy. Fred, a reservist going home for good, had three vertebrae crushed when a Porta John slipped off a forklift and landed on his back. And T.K., who, like Colee, is also due to return to Iraq in a month, was hit in the groin by a piece of shrapnel that's rendered him temporarily (he hopes) impotent. After meeting one another on their New York-bound flight, they bond over the realization that all connecting flights have been cancelled and agree to share the last available rental car. Fred is bound for St. Louis, where he lives with his wife (Molly Hagan) and their teenage son (Mark L. Young), while Colee and Poole are heading for Las Vegas, where Colee plans to return Randy's old -- and possibly very valuable -- acoustic guitar to his family and T.K. plans to avail himself of the services of professional sex workers in hopes of getting everything in full working order before he reunites with his fiancee. For T.K. the inability to perform sexually is a sign of failure, and there's no room for malfunction in an extremely focused life plan that sees him rising quickly through the military ranks and eventually entering public office. But as all three come to realize, life continued on without them while they were away and even their best laid plans are bound to go awry.

While remaining neutral on the subject of the war itself, Burger and Wittenborn capture a strong sense of the dislocation many soldiers feel upon returning home, from the odd looks and cruel treatment Colee gets from a group of snotty Indiana University girls to the rote and increasingly empty sounding "No, thank you" instead of "You're welcome" that each receives once people realize who they are and where they've been. The film isn't perfect -- it's hard to accept Colee as a woman with evangelical Christian leanings who also talks knowledgably about threeways and negotiates freebees with prostitutes, and too many people are too downright mean to be entirely believable -- but the dialogue is often sharp and funny and the performances nicely pitched. A hefty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I enjoyed this race! Can I have more?

Three-time speedway champion Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is an expert at survival in the harsh landscape that has become our country. Just as he thinks he has turned his life around, the ex-con is framed for a gruesome murder he didn’t commit. Forced to don the mask of the mythical driver Frankenstein—a crowd favorite who seems impossible to kill—Ames is given an easy choice by Terminal Island’s warden (Joan Allen): suit up or rot away in a cell. His face hidden by a metallic mask, one convict will be put through an insane three-day challenge. Ames must survive a gauntlet of the most vicious criminals in the country’s toughest prison to claim the prize of freedom. Driving a monster car outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers, one desperate man will destroy anything in his path to win the most twisted spectator sport on Earth. This is Death Race.
The Roger Corman-produced cult favorite DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) gets an update in this reworking from action director Paul W.S. Anderson (RESIDENT EVIL). In a role sure to please fans of his work in CRANK (2006) and the TRANSPORTER films, Jason Statham is Frankenstein, the fierce driver portrayed by David Carradine in the original. The script, also by Anderson, largely does away with the original's satirical elements in favor an increased number of breathtaking crashes and stunt driving. In 2012, the American economy has collapsed, and prisons have been taken over by corporations. Overseen by Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), Terminal Island prison generates immense amounts of revenue with pay-per-view broadcasts of "Death Race," in which inmates participate in an auto race where anything goes. New inmate Jensen Ames (Statham), who has been framed for the death of his wife, is chosen to take over the role of Frankenstein, the contest's recently deceased masked star driver. His chief competitor, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson), unaware that a new man is behind the mask of his old rival, will stop at nothing to win. With Case, a sexy navigator from the nearby women's facility, and a trusty pit crew led by wise veteran Coach (Ian McShane), Ames has a good shot at winning. If he does, he's been promised his freedom---but the race holds more obstacles than he can imagine, and ratings are more important to Hennessey than being true to her word. Loud, gory, and lightning fast, DEATH RACE is geared to the video game generation, right down to the graphics that appear onscreen during the race's TV broadcast. Once again, Statham creates a great hero to root for in a performance that rises above the copious stunts and visual effects. Allen, in uncharacteristic role, is suitably imposing as the steely warden. There are plenty of deaths, with prisoners machine-gunning each other from their Mad Max-style cars. Expect anything more road taxing and you’ll be disappointed. But Jason Statham, above, can talk the torque as former racing driver Jensen Ames, who is forced into the Death Race after being fitted up for his wife’s murder. And Natalie Martinez, as his co-driver Case, knows how to wear a pair of hotpants. Death Race is all muscle, no fat. Anderson and his exceptional cast tell their tightly built story and get out of the way. Needless to say, the film’s story is ludicrous. The story was dumb back in 1975, and adding an updated post credits interlude to bring the thing up to date doesn’t make it seem any more cerebral. Trying to count the plot holes and logic problems in this film would be harder than trying to count to a billion, but to the film’s credit, it doesn’t care. Death Race occasionally flirts with logic (explaining how the warden controls the weapons on the cars in order to prevent the drivers from turning the cars on the guards, for example) but at the end of the day, Anderson (who also wrote the screenplay) isn’t about to let logic get in the way of big explosions and opportunities for Jason Statham to do shirtless pull-ups. Instead, the film takes the exploitation film vibe of the original and cleans it up a bit for mass consumption and just runs with it. I’m cool with that. The main reason the film works as well as it does is because Anderson and company have managed to assemble a surprisingly good cast. I’ll admit it—I’ll watch anything Jason Statham is in at this point. I don’t know if it’s the British accent or what, but the guy makes everything he’s in better than it actually has any right to be. Death Race is no exception. Truthfully, Jensen Ames could just be Statham’s character from the Transporter films doing a stint in jail—there’s not much to distinguish the performancecs—but I find myself not caring. The guy has onscreen charisma by the truckload. He’s the closest thing to an action star we have working today (and unlike Vin Diesel he hasn’t tried to do family flicks or comedy). No one will ever mistake Death Race as a classic example of American cinema—and I’m sure everyone involved in its creation is okay with that. While the film is loud and crass and over-the-top, that’s all it ever aspired to be. In this regard, it’s a success. If you’re looking for a mindless action film to kill ninety minutes of your life and give you some thrills and a few things to cheer about, you could do far worse than Death Race. I highly recommend this mindless fun movie. Sit back and enjoy the Death Race. A 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Babylon was a waste of my time

In Babylon A.D. it is the not-too-distant future. Thousands of satellites scan, observe and monitor our every move. Much of the planet is a war zone; the rest, a collection of wretched way stations, teeming megalopolises, and vast wastelands punctuated by areas left radioactive from nuclear meltdowns. It is a world made for hardened warriors, one of whom, a mercenary known only as Toorop, lives by a simple survivor's code: kill or be killed. His latest assignment has him smuggling a young woman named Aurora from a convent in Kazakhstan to New York City. Toorop, his new young charge Aurora and Aurora's guardian Sister Rebeka embark on a 6,000-mile journey that takes them from Eastern Europe, through a refugee camp in "New Russia," across the Bering Straight in a pilfered submarine, then through the frozen tundra of Alaska and Canada, and finally to New York.
It’s one thing when a studio won’t screen a movie for critics in advance. But when the movie’s director bad-mouths it even before it opens, it’s something entirely else. That’s what Mathieu Kassovitz has done to Babylon A.D., calling it “pure violence and stupidity” and blaming studio interference with the movie he directed and co-wrote (with Joseph Simas, from a novel by Maurice G. Dantec). Kassovitz can pose as an artist undone by front-office meddling, but he sounds more like a man who breaks wind in an elevator, then shouts “Who did that?” in an effort to throw suspicion on somebody else. No matter what the script had that Kassovitz didn’t get to shoot, or what he shot that somebody else cut out, the rest of us have to go by what ends up on the screen, and Babylon A.D. is an unruly disaster.Vin Diesel plays Toorop, a mercenary hired to pick a girl up from a remote monastery in Mongolia and escort her to New York City. He doesn’t know why or who she is, or why he was hired when he can’t even enter the United States because he’s on a terrorist-watch list. He knows only that the man who hired him, one Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu), “needs a man he can trust.”Meanwhile, we see an ascetic-looking woman addressed as “Your Highness” (Charlotte Rampling) being informed that the girl is on her way. “Our miracle is coming!” she rejoices.Questions proliferate early on. This person Diesel is playing, just what is his name (the movie is well along before anyone even pronounces his name clearly enough for us to catch)? Where is this burnt-out slum he’s living in? What year is it exactly—or even approximately, for that matter? Why aren’t Depardieu and Rampling mentioned in the opening credits? (Maybe their agents were watching out for their reputations.) Babylon A.D. is just plain bad; it's the kind of film that's such a waste of time and resources, you have to wonder why it was made in the first place. Babylon A.D. actually gets off to a decent start and there are flashes throughout of the kind of film Kassovitz must have set out to make. As in Children of Men, Babylon offers a vision of the future that is essentially a dilapidated version of the present, where all the impressive technology can't mask how cheap human life has become. Kassovitz seems particularly fascinated by the concept of borders and how much more difficult it becomes to move from country to country in an era of advanced globalization. The film's most memorable scene (or, to be more accurate, its only memorable scene) finds Toorop, Aurora and Sister Rebecca racing dozens of other immigrants to win a spot on the only vessel bound for the Russian border: an ancient Cold War-era submarine where the crew shoots those unlucky enough to make it on in time. Had Kassovitz actually pursued this thematic thread, it might have made the picture an ambitious failure instead of simply a failure. But any deeper ideas are quickly lost amidst the incomprehensible action sequences, the wooden acting and the nonsensical third act, in which the studio's interference becomes blatantly obvious. (If the last scene makes any sense to you, please post an analysis online so the rest of us can figure out what the heck happened.) We can argue over who is ultimately responsible for this mess until the movie turns up on cable, but the fact is, some films are just doomed to failure from the moment they're green-lit despite the best intentions of everyone involved. Babylon A.D. is one of those films. I like Vin, I really do, but this one was doomed before it even came out. Better luck next time. I'm holding out for the next Fast and the Furious movie. A disappointing 2 on my "Go See" scale.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dangerous? Not in the least! Sad? Definitely.

Remorseless assassin Joe (Nicolas Cage) is in Thailand to complete a series of contract killings for a crime boss called Surat (Nirattisai Kaljaruek) in Bangkok Dangerous. He hires a street punk named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to run errands for him, all the while planning to kill the youth at the conclusion of his assignment. Instead, Joe becomes Kong's unlikely mentor,and begins a tentative romance with a local shop girl. But as Joe begins to let his guard down, Surat decides it is time to clean house.
The second film from Hong Kong-born twin directors Danny and Oxide Pang to earn a U.S. remake (after 2002's THE EYE), BANGKOK DANGEROUS differs in that, this time around, the brothers are doing the remaking themselves. Swapping Pawalit Mongkolpisit's mute Thai hitman from the original 1999 film for Nicolas Cage's brooding (but talking) American assassin, this version is less moody and stylized. Still, fans of Cage, and action aficionados who favor exotic locales, should find much to chew on in this unique thriller. Following an assignment in Prague, lonely hitman Joe (Cage) arrives in Bangkok under contract to a mobsters who have hired him to kill four people, including a trafficker of young girls and a politician. After seeing young street criminal Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) in action, Joe hires him to be his liaison to his employers. During a trip to a pharmacy to get disinfectant for a wound gotten during a motorcycle chase, Joe meets pretty mute pharmacist Fon (Charlie Young). The two begin to date, and though she is oblivious to his profession, she provides some sweetness in his dangerous, lonely life. Joe also becomes a mentor to young Kong, but these meaningful distractions in his life could prove dangerous to his job. BANGKOK DANGEROUS has an unglamorous slickness that makes it seem as if it could've been made in the late 1980s or early '90s. Cage is appropriately stoic as Joe, and sports a bizarre mane of jet-black hair. The Bangkok locations are effective and the crowded nighttime streets make for exciting chase sequences. The onscreen violence is not exceptionally graphic with the exception of a realistic arm severing, and one sequence of bullets puncturing a boat as seen from underwater is beautifully shot. The film moves to a fairly exiting climax with Joe going up against the thugs who hired him. Still by this time most members of the audience will have tuned out. Joe is not a character with whom you have any empathy. He is a killer pure and simple and he is never redeemed – at least not in any way that Cage plays him. This is one of Cage’s worst performances in years. Watching him bring this character to life is a study in how not to act a role. He gives this man no humor, no heart, no warmth and no depth. You can’t get much worse than that. The film itself is poorly conceived and muddled in the execution. Nothing about the man or the mission makes much sense. The audience is as unenlightened at the end of the story as it was at the beginning. Cage has been having a tough time choosing movies lately, maybe he needs to really sit down and think before he chooses because i'm tired of seeing this kinda crap. A horrified 1 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, September 5, 2008

No, there's nothing wrong with my eyes! I wasn't crying!


Diane Lane and Richard Gere team up for the third time for this three-hankie romance based on a Nicholas Sparks novel in Nights In Rodanthe. Adrienne Willis (Lane) feels her life falling apart around her: her unfaithful husband (Christopher Meloni) is begging to come home, and her teenage daughter (Mae Whitman) can't stand to be around her. When her friend (Viola Davis) asks her to watch her bed and breakfast in the picturesque town of Rodanthe, Adrienne leaps at the chance to get away. But since it's late in the season, there's only one guest: the handsome Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere), who is quiet about his reason for coming to the town. Driven together by a powerful hurricane, Adrienne and Paul find love and comfort in each other's arms.


What the heck is this? A soft-lit Hallmark card commercial? There’s a man swinging a little girl in his arms on a beach. Oh. That was Adrienne’s (Diane Lane) memory of her late father. Now she seems to have woken up into pseudo-reality, where she’s a middle-aged, single mom with a testy teenage daughter, a Harry-Potter-look-a-like son, and a beautiful big house that doesn’t seem to have been paid for with a sub-prime mortgage. She’s safe, then. What the hell is this? A magical castle out of a Tim Burton film? Oh. The camera is panning around a wooden, blue-shuttered house on stilts by the sea somewhere in remote North Carolina (Rodanthe? Or is Rodanthe a new toothpaste?), and it’s the house that Adrienne’s taking care of for her black friend. Oh, wait, make that her sassy black friend, now down in Miami with a hunka hunka burnin’ stud beside her. And here’s Adrienne’s hunk, Paul Flanner, a brooding plastic surgeon up from Raleigh (Richard Gere, who still puts on that hungry pout whether he’s looking all huffy or kissy). She’s safe in his arms, then. What the #@%$ is this? Turns out Dr Flanner had a woman die on his operating table and he’s come to the area because the woman’s husband wanted to meet him, but Flanner’s acting all dick-ish about it, surly and clinically detached. What’s Adrienne see in this guy? Did he actually just say to her, “Any man is a fool who doesn’t know how incredibly lucky he is to have you?” And now, all of a sudden, with a storm coming up, she’s kissing him and they’re taking their clothes off? Can you say “pathetic phallus-y”? Oh, I know what this is. The plot swinging from trauma to romance, lack of chemistry between leads, old coot as local colour, bad dialogue—none of it matters. This is porn for the lovelorn, where your heartstrings get plucked more amateurishly than bad banjo-pickin’ somewhere in North Carolina. The location is a prop. Middle-aged white people flirt with genuine pain but don’t really feel it because all their material trappings make them feel safe. Deadly boring families stay intact. Grief gets trotted out and cheaply exploited in order to burnish instant love with faux-realism. Someone has to die in order to give a brief romance the aura of sanctified, indisputable perfection. And then the ending—where we’re told that we not only can but MUST believe in love, and life, again. Wow. I never knew a romance could be so depressingly cynical: it really thinks it can pull th—wait, why are so many people around me crying? This one was just ok for me the one time that I did tear up, I played it off very well. LOL This gets just a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pull The Switch!

A hilarious twist on the classic monster movie, Igor tells the story of one Igor (John Cusack) who's sick of being a lowly lab assistant with a Yes Master's degree and dreams of becoming a scientist. When his cruel master Dr. Glickenstien (John Cleese) kicks the bucket a week before the annual Evil Science Fair, Igor finally gets his chance. With the help of two of his experimental creations - Brain (Sean Hayes), a brain in a jar who's a little light on brains, and Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a cynical bunny brought back from being road kill, Igor embarks on building the most evil invention of all time, a huge, ferocious monster. Unfortunately, instead of turning out evil, the monster turns out as Eva (Molly Shannon), a giant aspiring actress who wouldn't hurt a fly. Just when the load on his back can't get any heavier, Igor and his band of monstrous misfits uncover an evil plot that threatens their world lead by scientist Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard) and his assistant Heidi (Jennifer Coolidge). Now, they must fight to save it and prove that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

The voice cast, led by Cusack, all sound as though they're totally committed to the world of mad scientists and Igors and weird creatures. Cusack pours it on as a thoroughly decent guy stuck in a world where everything must be evil. Voicing the gigantic Eva, Shannon brings a mix of sweetness and diva-ish attitude to a creature with looks only a mother could love. Buscemi and Hayes really made out in that their characters, Brain and Scamper, deliver the best lines and have the most energy onscreen. They're so entertaining they deserve their own spin-off. What can be funnier than an immortal bunny rabbit that continues to try and kill himself only to be miraculously resurrected seconds later? Or a mini buddy with his brain in a jar who just happens to not be that smart (a name tag on his jar written by him says 'Brian') In the country of Malaria (love that name) where these creatures dwell, it's all about being evil. But despite what sounds like a dark and scary tone, Igor's actually a light-hearted comedy that's surprisingly sweet. Igor's an unexpectedly touching, enjoyable romp through a world of bizarre and creepy creatures, and definitely more original than a lot of the animated fare distributed by major studios. A lighthearted kiddie movie with plenty of jokes aimed for parents as well. A nice treat for all. A ghoulish 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Should've been swatted right out of the theatres

In Fly Me to the Moon, the year is 1969 and like everyone else in the world, Nat (Trevor Gagnon) and his pals IQ (Philip Daniel Bolden) and Scooter (David Gore) are abuzz over the upcoming launch of the first manned mission to the moon. Inspired by his Grandpa’s (Christopher Lloyd) oft-told tale of hiding aboard Amelia Earhart’s plane during her famed solo cross-Atlantic flight, Nat hatches a secret plan for the three young flies to stow away on the Apollo 11 rocket. The hard part is keeping the plan secret from his mom, Mrs. McFly (Kelly Ripa)! When a N.A.S.A. Ground Control official catches sight of the three winged stowaways, he instructs the astronauts to store them in a test tube for later study. But after an electrical short causes the ship’s engine to malfunction, the three intrepid insects manage to escape from their glass mini-brig just in time to discover the wiring problem and fix it. After a difficult lunar landing, Nat tags along with Neil Armstrong on his legendary moon walk.

In a junkyard near Cape Canaveral in 1969, a pre-teen fly named Nat (voiced by Gagnon) and his pals Scooter and IQ (Gore and Bolden) are dreaming of space when they concoct an idea to hitch a ride on the first manned moon mission. Nat inherits his yearning to explore from his grandfather (Lloyd), which causes much anguish for his nervous mom (Ripa). And once they get into space, a Russian fly (Begley) sends an evil spy (Curry) to sabotage the mission. The set design and animation are spectacular in 3D on a massive Imax screen. The moon-landing sequence is worth the price of admission, with a painterly elegance that includes detailed textures and gorgeously rendered light and shadows. So it's a pity that into these settings come ssuch poorly designed characters: flies that just look like goofy humans with tiny wings. Honestly, why call them flies at all? The film would actually make more sense if you called them fairies. But the problem goes deeper than that, because the screenplay is completely haphazard, with rambling, talky dialog that doesn't actually tell us anything about the characters, plus a plot that spirals into unexplored realms of implausibility. We'd happily go along with a tale about three adventurous adolescent insects if there was even a shred of logic within their story. But nothing holds water; the script feels slapped together without a second thought. And you have to feel sorry for the talented animators and voice actors who lend their skills to such an ill-conceived project. Most of the vocal cast is wasted, although Ripa and Sheridan (as a curvy Russian who has a history with Grandpa) try to inject some attitude, despite the script's appalling sexism. And when the real Buzz Aldrin appears after the painfully sentimental finale to tell us that all of this is scientifically impossible, we know the filmmakers have completely lost their way. This one had the potential to be fun, but sad to say...It just wasn't. A saddened 2 on my "Go See" scale.